Fiscal Mismanagement Plagues Top Producer of Minority Physicians

NEWARK, N.J.

For years, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey had a long reputation for being the place for aspiring minority doctors and dentists to study. 

UMDNJ is ranked No. 1 in granting the most medical degrees to minorities in Diverse’s Top 100 Graduate and ranked 19th in total Minority First Professional in dentistry.

But massive layoffs and fiscal mismanagement have led to the Newark-based university being placed under a federal monitoring program.

University officials downplay the worries, pointing out that, not including historically Black colleges and universities, UMDNJ produces more minority physicians than any institution in the country.

But the 51-year-old university, which enrolls 4,500 students and employs 11,000 people throughout five campuses, still has a long way to go before it emerges from its financial problems. Recently, the institution announced the layoffs of more than 100 employees, many of who are minorities. According to interim president Dr. Bruce Vladeck, the layoffs were needed to close a $25.5 million deficit in the university’s annual $1.6 billion budget.

In response that the layoffs affect a disproportionate number of minorities, Anna Farneski, a spokeswoman for UMDNJ, said: “The accusation is baseless and unfortunate. The racial makeup of those laid off is proportional to the diversity of the hospital’s work force.”

Tom Murphy, president of the local chapter of the Health Professionals and Allied Employees, the state’s largest health care union, is opposed to the layoffs.

“Once again, despite pledges of new approaches, front-line workers were not involved in the decision-making leading to the layoffs,” he says.

A report earlier this year revealed years of rampant financial abuse at the state medical school. Administrators acknowledged earlier this year that they overcharged Medicaid by $4.9 million, though a federally appointed monitor says the overbilling could have topped $100 million. The report also charged that members of the university’s board of trustees used their positions to secure jobs for relatives.

On Dec. 30, 2005, a federal judge ordered a review of the university’s financial transactions and appointed former prosecutor and Judge Herbert J. Stern to monitor the records. Stern immediately launched 27 separate investigations and noted that excessive funds were used to host holiday parties and to hire political lobbyists.

Medical school officials agreed to be monitored for two years in exchange for immunity by federal prosecutors. Officials say UMDNJ has hired a compliance officer who will be able to assist Stern in monitoring the financial records of the school. The compliance officer will report directly to the school’s board of trustees. They also say that in the past the school did not have a compliance component to check its billing and financial practices.

In the meantime, Jane Oates, executive director of the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education, is upbeat about the school’s future. “High quality has been there for a long time.”

 (an expanded version of this story appears in Diverse’s Sept. 7 print edition)

 

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